I’m always fascinated by how language and consciousness influence teacher other. For instance, a decade ago if you would have asked someone how conscious they were, they would have thought about being physically passed out. Now, a lot of people think about how “awake” their minds are physically and/ or spiritually or they think of the thing that they know makes them awake as a human, yet they don’t know where exactly it resides in their body or where it even comes from and they certainly can’t see it. The word has experienced a sort of tipping point in western society where we have finally caught up to what the ancients knew from the very beginning and have been trying to explain ever since.
When a word begins to move into society at large, many times the meaning or connotation of that word will go through several interpretations until the masses get it. This is something I’ve observed with many of the concepts within Chinese Medicine as it becomes more mainstream and more patients begin to educate their friends and family on what exactly is happening in that treatment room.
My hope is that this blog can start to put some of those concepts into writing for you to refer to later. We know that some of what we say makes total sense and no sense to you at the same time. You feel the shift, but then perhaps you forget what we said or you lack the vocabulary to explain it when someone asks, “What’s Acupuncture like and what are they doing exactly?”
So let’s start really really basic.
Qi, or Chi (pronounced chee)
This is loosely translated as energy, however, it can be energy that is invisible yet felt or something that can change into a mass with form. The ancient texts describe the qi as a force that precedes the flow of blood. It is what we are accessing when we put a needle in. Contrary to popular myth, we are not trying to hit a nerve. That burns like all get out!
That ache you sometimes feel when we insert an acupuncture needle, called da qi, is your qi answering the door so to speak and the needle is us knocking at the door. It’s coming to see what has penetrated the body and taking direction on which way to travel or whether to disperse or consolidate based on what we then do with the needle or even the following needles. Sometimes you’ll notice we put the needles in and take them out in very specific orders, or arrange them in a way that makes you think about sacred geometry. This is why.
So how can Qi go from something you can’t see to physical form? Think about water. It can go from vapor or steam to liquid and then be frozen into form, going from something you can’t really see to a block of ice. Qi is a bit different. Typically we want to avoid Qi from moving into form. When that happens it’s typically due to stagnation or blockage. This could come from emotional blockage (from years of habitualized emotional reactions), gas in the intestines slowing things down causing qi masses, or in the more severe case of inflammation that binds with water as our body tries to cool down the inflammation turning blocked qi into masses like cysts, calcifications, or tumors. Sometimes we will refer to this stage as a progression into dampness or phlegm within the body.
As you can imagine these later stages get harder and harder to unwind. There is hope to at least stop something from getting worse and then slowly chip away at it over time when you consider that Energy always precedes matter. If you don’t understand this, wikipedia “quantum physics” and you will get a more in-depth scientific explanation of this concept. It’s this very concept that allow Acupuncture, qi gong, herbalism, and meditation to preventatively treat many conditions well before they engrain themselves into physical form.
Can you feel Qi even if you can’t see it? Absolutely. When we begin to palpate your points, take your pulse, or even teach you qi gong we are feeling for the qi at the points and in your ethereal body first for more information on what the body needs. Some of you will even ask, "Was that a needle?" as you feel us draw the qi up into the point before manipulating it.
Try this mini exercise to become familiar with your own qi.
-Sit quietly with your feet planted firmly on the floor.
-Begin to observe your breathing entering and exiting your body for a few breaths, bringing you into present moment awareness.
-Now place your hands in front of you as if you were holding an imaginary orange without your fingertips touching.
-Now take your awareness from your breath and move it to your hands.
-Observe what you feel if anything. Maybe warmth, Maybe tingling, Maybe nothing.
-Now gently begin to turn your hands over towards each other until the back of your hands are in opposition almost touching.
-Now gently begin to pull your hands away from one another as if you were trying to open two sliding doors apart and observe what you feel now.
-Many people begin to feel something here if they haven’t already.
-When you get to about shoulder width apart, turn the hands back over laterally so the palms are facing one another and gently push the palms together until you are holding that imaginary orange again.
-Repeat as many times to your heart’s content. The more you repeat it, the stronger your sense of your own energy will become.
This is a mindful way to recenter yourself when you need a quick break from life in general or want to reconnect with more than your physical body. Remember- you have a body, you have a mind. You are NOT your body. You are NOT your mind. You are the gentle observer that dances between them cataloging everything. THIS is your qi and your consciousness all in one and energy precedes matter always and forever.
We would love to hear about your thoughts, observations with exercises or a-ha moments you have in treatment, qi gong class or meditation sessions in the comment section below. The more we communicate, the more mainstream and understood it all becomes. Your comment might very well help someone else understand their experience.
Hillary Talbott Roland, DOM, FABORM
Diplomate Oriental Medicine, Fellow American Board Oriental Reproductive Medicine, Certified Masters of Wisdom Mediation Teacher
Next week- The Yin and Yang of it